News / Africa

Several Southern Sudanese Delegates Quit North-South Abyei Talks

Several southern Sudanese delegates have given up on crucial north-south talks on the disputed Abyei region, accusing the Khartoum government of refusing to negotiate seriously. However, that lead negotiators at the Addis Ababa talks are pressing forward in an attempt to break a deadlock on several contentious issues.

Chol Deng Alak, head of a southern Sudanese citizens group called the Abyei Referendum Forum says the ruling National Congress Party is sabotaging talks on the oil-rich region's future.

The talks dragged on for a sixth day in Addis Ababa Friday, under mediation of a team led by President Barack Obama's special envoy to Sudan Scott Gration.

Lead negotiators say they plan to work Saturday and Sunday if necessary to break an impasse that threatens to unravel the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which brought peace between north and south after more than 20 years of war.

But Alak, a former Sudanese Ambassador to Moscow, says several  discouraged members of the southern delegation are fed up and going home. He called the talks "a waste of time."

"We are stuck already," he said.  "National Congress is continuing to present positions which are actually nullifying the whole CPA itself.  Most of us are leaving today,  because we came to realize it is a time consuming exercise which is unproductive."

Alak says only a miracle would clear the way for a referendum on which way Abyei would go if southerners vote, as expected next January, to split from the north.

"Let us hope a miracle happens tonight," he said. "Miracle really because the National Congress is continuing to be unreasonable."

The talks are hung up on a myriad of complex issues, including where Abyei's borders are, and who should be allowed to vote.

The Khartoum government is pushing for the inclusion of members of the Missiriyah, a nomadic tribe that grazes its animals in Abyei for part of the year. The Missiriyah strongly favor staying with northern Sudan, and depending on their numbers, could influence the referendum's outcome in the sparsely-populated region.

Tribal leaders have warned they would resort to force to prevent the referendum unless they are allowed to vote.

But many southerners, like Abyei Referendum Forum leader Alak, argue that the Missiriyah should not qualify as residents.

"But these are nomads," he said. "How do you give nomads citizenship? They are not living in one place, they are just moving, transversing. Anybody who is moving is not considered to be living there. It's just, you are moving. And they don't only cross the line of Abyei, they cross the other frontiers of the south. Would they want also to be southerners?"

An Arabic-language Khartoum newspaper Friday reported progress on the Missiriyah issue following separate talks between special envoy Gration and each of the delegations. A Sudanese source close to the talks confirmed to VOA that the talks are centering on the length of time an individual must reside in the region to be eligible to vote.

The United States has in recent months stepped up its diplomacy on Sudan in hopes of preventing a resumption of the 20-year civil war that claimed two million lives.

President Obama personally pressed the case for an agreement in meetings with Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha and Southern President Salva Kir on the sidelines of last month's UN General Assembly debate.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted this week that dealing with the Sudanese government is "difficult". U.S. officials have said the Washington would gradually improve both economic and diplomatic relations with Khartoum if the Abyei vote is allowed to go forward.

An African diplomat with intimate knowledge of the talks, however, said Sudan is pushing for more, including an immediate lifting of U.S. sanction, such as access to spare parts for its military aircraft.

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